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University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Last year, I said that UNLV was the best 0-6 football team I had ever seen. Well this year, in 2022, the team has finally turned that competitive spirit into actual wins, and UNLV's football team has earned its first 3-1 start of the current century. Considering that the Mountain West isn't quite as strong of a conference as it has been in years past, this UNLV team might even have a chance at contending for the conference title if they keep playing like they are currently. Boise State and San Diego State aren't the dominant teams that they used to be, and UNLV just closed out a convincing 2-score victory at the home of the defending conference champs, Utah State.

I almost can't believe I'm saying this, but UNLV actually looks good!

Most of the success lies on the arm and legs of sophomore quarterback Doug Brumfield. Brumfield showed flashes of promise last year, but was plagued with injuries. He has absolutely taken over the offense this season as the unquestioned starter. He has been throwing pinpoint-accurate passes down the field, and is making mostly smart decisions with the football. So far, he has only thrown a single interception, which happened to be in UNLV's only loss so far this season. When there's no one open downfield, Brumfield has been good about checking down to underneath receivers or taking off and running (he has 4 running touchdowns to go along with his 8 passing TDs). He isn't forcing balls into coverage and sabotaging scoring opportunities with avoidable turnovers.

Doug Brumfield
Photo credit: Lucas Peltier, UNLV Athletics.
Sophomore quarterback Doug Brumfield has been playing mistake-free football.

Though Brumfield has been a big part of UNLV's success, it isn't all him. In general, the offense has been moving pretty well. Discounting the loss to Cal, this offense has been putting up an average of 48 points per game. Part of that production has been on the ground with redshirt junior running back Aidan Robbins carrying the bulk of the load in the rushing attack. He has big shoes to fill after years of Lexington Thomas and Charles Williams cutting through and barreling over opposing defenses.

Robbins has been adequate so far as a substitute for Charles Williams. His stats on the season look really good, with over 400 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns in 4 games. But half of those yards came from a standout performance against North Texas, in which Robbins rushed for over 220 yards and 3 touchdowns. Robbins has been sharing carries with change-of-pace back Courtney Reese, who has had some explosive plays, but not scores yet.

I've long said that I think UNLV's athletic directors are mistaken for hiring offensive-minded coaches with goals of scoring over 30 points per game. It doesn't matter if you score 30 points per game if you let the other team score 40. That has been the case for UNLV in the past. Even when they've had productive offenses, those offenses still wouldn't be able to keep up with the volume of points that the leaky defense would give up against the opponents' offense. The Achilles heel of UNLV for as long as I can remember has been the defense's inability to stop opposing offenses on 3rd and 4th downs, and a frustrating tendency to give up deep passes down the field, and none of the "offensive masterminds" that the university has hired as head coaches have been able to fix this problem in the past. For this reason, I was initially a little skeptical of the hiring of Marcus Arroyo as coach.

The defense has been making stops on 3rd and 4th downs, and preventing scores.

Despite the head coach being a former PAC 12 offensive coordinator, he's been leading a good UNLV defense in 2022! They've been making stops on 3rd and 4th downs, and they've been limiting the points scored by opposing offenses. This defensive success has been far more impressive to me compared to the explosiveness of the offense. No, they aren't shutting opponents out entirely, and the defense does still give up deep throws with alarming regularity. But one problem at a time, I guess. The important thing is that the defense has been making stops at key moments in games, preventing the opponents from stealing all the momentum and running away with games, and making the job easier for the offense by allowing them to play with a lead.

Competitive in a weak conference

If the offense can continue to be productive, and the defense continues to keep opposing offenses from sustaining long drives, then UNLV actually might have the potential to compete in the Mountain West. The Mountain West conference in 2022 isn't quite up to the level that it has been in the last few years. Boise, San Diego State, Nevada, and Fresno do not appear to be as dominant as they've been in recent years. The strongest team in the Mountain West seems to be Air Force, but Air Force lost to Wyoming in its conference opener. So either Air Force isn't as good as it looked in non-conference play, or Wyoming might be way better than expected.

With upcoming games against inconsistent New Mexico and San Jose State teams, UNLV has the potential to make it through the first half of the season with 4 or 5 wins. And they also have a late-season matchup against an abysmal Hawai'i team that could give UNLV a sixth win and bowl eligibility.

The most challenging games remaining on the schedule are, of course, a home game against aforementioned Air Force and a road trip to South Bend to challenge Notre Dame. Games against San Diego, Fresno, and Nevada will also likely be tough, but still winnable. With this 3-1 start, UNLV might not need to win any of these tougher games in order to make bowl eligibility. But if they can pull off one or more upsets against these tougher opponents, they might even be in the discussion for the conference championship. I actually expect this team to be competitive in all these games, but I'm not going to hold my breath for upsets against the likes of Air Force or Notre Dame.

Wyoming defeated Air Force
Photo credit: Troy Babbitt, UW Media-Athletics.
Air Force and Wyoming might be the teams to beat in the Mountain West.

In any case, it's nice to be 4 games into the season, and not already feel like the season is a lost cause. The fact that I'm even entertaining the idea of a bowl or conference championship, instead of just looking for "competitive play" and positive signs for next year, is a huge step up and a testament to how Marcus Arroyo is building and managing this team. The competitiveness of this UNLV team has me finally wondering if Arroyo has successfully built a culture of winning, and that he might finally be the man to help this perennial loser turn itself around.

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